Just occasionally, recently I’ve had pangs of going back home to sunshine, high power blenders, a garden to run around with, a cute puppy and a fully stocked kitchen. And stability for access to learning opportunities that are a bit more intensive – I want to get better at gymnastics/acrobatics, learn contemporary and hip hop, singing lessons, hiking training, sailing, raw food fine dining… All of these take time. And generally require some kind of dedication.
But that’s comfortable. And you don’t travel to be comfortable. And I have that while I travel often times anyway.
People always ask me this question, so why are you travelling? and I don’t really know what to say. Why not? I sometimes want to answer. To avoid thinking about it too hard, I seem to have a stock series of responses:
“After university, I didn’t want to throw myself into work, house, marriage, kids, mortgage, death – I wanted something different, I wanted to feel like life was more than that.”
“Because I’ve worked in so many NGOs and I’m tired of ‘activism as usual’. It’s the same kind of urgent, rat-race mentality sometimes – this seemingly violent, sleepless, frantic pursuit trying to solve the problems created by people living their lives like violent, sleepless, frantic pursuits. Somehow I don’t think that’s the way to go about it. So I’m here in part to discover the social movements and ecological communities, learn permaculture and facilitate transformative experiences without the deadlines, the fundraising and sponsorship applications, the bureaucratic structures…I don’t really want to find an ‘organisation’ here – I want to find the individuals, the little projects, the communities, the families doing cool things in the jungle, the one-man-band dreams, the group of friends revolutionizing over picnics…”
“Because this is my life’s dream – I always wanted to come to South America, to live in the jungle, to practice my Spanish. In my head, I truncated my lifespan to thirty years and asked myself: if I cannot see my life after thirty, how would I live it differently now?”
“Because I just don’t think the system is going to make it. We’re on the brink of collapse – financial, ecological, societal. And I want to get out there and live my dream before the next GFC, before climate change makes it impossible to catch more planes, before global supply chains stop working, before the Amazon really disappears.”
These are, of course, in order of how ‘awake’ the other person feels to me.
But none of these are so true in the moment I say them and I know it.
Baksho talks a lot about ‘freeing people from the stories they tell themselves’ and, as a lover of the work of Krishnamurti and Alan Watts, I’m rather drawn to this idea. As an artist and storyteller, I’m utterly captivated by the power of story. But as a human being, I wonder: what does being free from any story mean? What happens when we tell ourselves the same story about ourselves over and over again – for example, the one of ‘Nalini running away to become an Amazonian jungle warrior woman’? Can we be consciously free of judgment, or merely just note it’s there until it flits away of its own accord? Being free, for many, is not being victim anymore, hence having ‘control’ – but for me, it’s more about ‘letting flow,’ which seem like the opposite of controlling the hell outta everything; being in flow with who I really am, and being more my true self. But what happens when this version of the ‘true self’ becomes a story I tell myself…hence preventing other stories from existing?
It’s a little like eating what I eat – I don’t do it consciously anymore; it’s instinctive, it’s what ‘goes with the flow,’ and often – especially if I’m open to it – I’ll have moments of deep cosmic resonance that make me go YES, this is why I came. To hear this story. To meet this person. To contribute in this way. Most of the time, these are moments of pure presence, bottom of the U stuff.
But I’ve often asked myself: do I need to be here to have those moments? To see extraordinary in the ordinary? To connect with people in an utterly unbound, present way? The answer is no – I can do that anywhere. It’s just that with travelling, I don’t have my own shit getting in my own way. I don’t have another meeting, so I can stop and listen to an old woman talk about her grandchildren by the roadside for however long I want, and never have to say goodbye because I’m running late for my next meeting and want to honor that person’s time. I can just be, listen, observe without feeling like I’m somehow ‘wasting’ time that could be spent working or studying. I can be in flow with the least material constraints possible. That’s not to say there are no constraints – sure, I often have to arrive home in time for a CS host or sleep or have another event I’m keen to go to…or my visa is about to expire. That’s just to say that I’m minimizing the ‘noise’ as much as possible for the flow signal to act.
But that’s hard to explain to people, and I’m not even fully sure of it myself sometimes. After all, being present and minimizing noise is a CHOICE we make, no matter where we are or what the circumstances – war zone or best friend’s bedroom. It’s funny, because in a way, it’s becoming just an ‘automatic’ way of being – I do it so often that that’s just who I am now, not who I choose to be. There is only choosing if there seem to be options, and it’s kind of nice this seems like the only obvious one.
Part of the travel is just to break out of ingrained patterns of habit. Such as planning the hell out of my life. I’m an organizational freak and like to have things under control and well planned out so arriving in a town with nowhere to stay scares the hell out of me. Part of it’s selfish – tropical fruit, jungle superfoods, sunshine, ayahuasca. Part of it’s spiritual – I need a spiritual breakthrough. I run ‘WakeUps’ but need the next level Awakening. And it takes more and more every time to break the ceiling.
But is part of it fear, too? Fear of being trapped. Fear of being stuck in front of a screen. Fear of being in a job that involves sitting down. Fear of having to wear a pencil skirt and blouse. Fear of being so lulled into this way of life that it becomes harder to drop everything and leave. Fear of having things to lose.
I think about going back to New Zealand in a sort of ‘eventual’ way, even though sometimes it may seem like ‘grass is greener on the other side’ kind of way, or ‘my life would be so much easier if I weren’t travelling’ way. Even though I know the latter is not strictly true – I get by on between $10-$20 here per week, which is pretty amazing given what I’d have to do in NZ to live. I know that if I were to go back there, I’d have the same frustrations I did before and then some – I would not feel like I was living the ‘real’ life and would feel like I was just in some kind of giant bubble. Because it is a bubble – all developed nations are living in a bubble, blind and deaf to the reality of what people in developing countries face. But a deeper kind of bubble – the concrete bubble, the buildings-and-global-supply-chain-and-financial-economy bubble that’s just so divorced from nature and ecosystems. Even here, I often walk through ‘developed’ cities like Lima or Santiago and I feel like I’m not ‘real’ or living in a place that’s ‘real’ – grey-scapes, concrete towers and nature-domineering design just seems jarringly un-real. Artificial.
The other answer is – well, if I weren’t travelling, what else would I be doing? I’d be travelling in New Zealand. Why? Because I don’t know much what else I want to be doing with my life. I mean, that’s not strictly true – permaculture and GenUP are two big pulls for me – but I mean that even with these two things I’m not really ready to settle down and devote the rest of my life to them…Organisations take time and dedication. Plants take time and dedication. They’re both a bit like having kids. And I’m not quite there yet.
I ask myself: yes, I am travelling. But am I travelling in the way I’d really want, the way I’d really love?
I think of films like Into the Wild and explorers I know of – Mike Horn, the French guy who crossed the Himalayas barefoot – and I have a strange sense of this isn’t as epic as it could be. It almost feels too…comfortable. I mean, I couchsurf and Workaway, especially with like-minded people, which is like the ultimate comfort – there’s a bed to sleep in, a shower (I’ve largely given up on hot showers), a well-equipped kitchen to use, running water, people, civilization. And – what’s more – I travel with stuff. A lot of it. Mostly food, granted, but I’ve never found I’ve been ‘needing’ anything – perhaps stitching up the odd pair of pants with holes, but I rarely buy anything.
There’s a part of me that wonders what it would be like to travel with much less, with little connection – hence without this laptop and be okay with sporadic cell connection – hunt and gather to eat, and be completely comfortable with parking a tent outside or a mosquitero and hammock between a couple of trees and walk for miles and miles and miles through the jungle, the sierra, make rafts and sail them down the Amazon river. Without a plan. Without a destination. Without a backup or an end date. To learn to wield a machete, smash open coconuts, drink the water and use the halves to collect more rainwater.
There’s a part of me that feels like, I’m not really living.
I am, also, inordinately grateful to every host that has put me up for a few days or weeks, the intensity of friendships and connections I’ve made and my family, who have always been my number one champions from a distance, my fallback. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
Perhaps the reason it feels this way is because I don’t really want to travel. I want to explore. I’ve had a sense of this even when I was in New Zealand – a kind of calling from the Te Araroa walkers I met, the adventure guides, the friends I had who went on programmes like Ship of New Zealand and Mike Horn’s Young Explorers’ Programme.
So why don’t I do it? Here, anyway:
- I don’t feel ready physically. I don’t feel like I have the level of fitness and strength and stamina to wander through the mountains for days on end, I’m definitely hyper-sensitive to the cold – so that’s a big one – and, as far as the jungle is concerned, that’s a different kind of fitness that’s needed, one that’s adapted to the extreme humidity. The heat I can deal with.
- I don’t feel ready in terms of survival. I (a) don’t have all the equipment necessary (tent / hammock, cooker, gas, machete etc) and (b) even if I did, am rather dubious I’d be able to carry it all around and (c ) even if I did the whole thing with minimal equipment, don’t have the survival skills to simply ‘hunt and gather,’ avoid dangerous animals, find water…and so on. The lack of knowledge of this ecosystem is a big one for me – considering the Amazon is one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet, there just seems to be too much I don’t know. I don’t know which plants cure what. I don’t know which frogs are poisonous. I’m not sure where tarantulas hang out. I don’t know what to do if a wild pig emerges. This sounds rather ‘sissy’ in writing, but the concerns are pretty real, rational and practical.
I’m reading Women Who Run With Wolves as I write this, and I cannot help but relate to the archetypal ‘Wild Woman’ and feel sad at how far we are, as females, divorced from our innate nature. We are scared of walking barefoot on the rocks. We have forgotten which plants are used for what and how to prepare them. We have become the ‘nice’ girl, the tame home-maker, the docile, obedient, submissive mother and wife, and we’ve forgotten what it feels like to scream in a thunderstorm with the hail shooting down like gunfire and striking us right to the very bone. We may hike and explore and hitchhike and sleep outside occasionally, but there’s a huge element of rationality and control to this, of uber-preparedness for all eventualities, of First Aid training camps and Girl Scouts or orienteering courses, of the dos and don’ts lists for venturing off into nature, of how to read maps and contours and make radio calls to assess the weather for the following day. We largely don’t know what it feels like to go off into the woods with nothing but the clothes on our backs and wander there for weeks, months. I try and think of female explorers to this effect and sadly nobody comes to mind. We are afraid of ‘getting lost,’ of ‘being cold,’ ‘starving,’ and – most importantly – losing all connection with the ‘civilised’ world.
We are afraid of who we will become. We are afraid of turning into half-animals, hags with wrinkled forearms and hair that hangs like moss, of turning into huntresses with blood dripping from our mouths of hunting for our souls in the night, of forgetting what it feels like to love and be loved. We are not afraid of death – no, the Skeleton Woman or Lady Death walks close with us in the Life/Death/Life force wherever we go – nor of pain, in bouts, but of prolonged suffering, of having no one to call for and cry for help anymore, of walking alone on the great open domes of our hearts with no one to tell. We are afraid of not making it and hence not returning with the skull-bound flame of a story to burn the world bright and brilliant with; we are afraid of disappearing entirely and never having the hope of awakening the Wild Woman in other spirit sisters living lives in the office, the ivory tower, the bureaucracy, the wine cellar, the brothel or parliament again. We are afraid they will look at us and relegate us to the asylum or the graveyard of unidentifiable bones – nutcase replacing witch in this century – and hence we are afraid that our lives of personal liberation will ultimately fail in yielding liberation for other Wild Women.
We are afraid. Because this is how we have been taught to be, all our lives. Our mothers taught us this. Our fathers over-protected and reinforced it. We’ve lost touch with our intuition.
I guess the real reason I don’t just jump ship and explore is because I’m still looking for the Wild Woman within, the wild mother, the Baba Yaga.